Jim Muncy's Thoughts on HR 5382

"Dear Space Advocates & Correspondents: This afternoon the House of Representatives had a 40 minute debate on legislation designed to advance the U.S. commercial human spaceflight industry. It was a good and spirited debate, with bipartisan supporters speaking in favor, and two partisan Democrats speaking against HR5382. Unfortunately, the opponents' arguments reflected the same misunderstanding of this issue that so many people have. Their presumption is that the federal government needs to set standards to protect the safety of the early adventurers who wish to buy a risky ride into space.

Even before the vehicles that would fly them are designed, let alone built and flying. Frankly, Mr. Oberstar and Mr. DeFazio, the Ranking Minority Members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and its Aviation Subcommittee, seem to believe that we need to regulate spaceflight as if it were just another approach to Aviation.

But rockets are not airplanes, and the Commercial Space Launch Act and the U.S. commercial space transportation industry are not under the jurisdiction of the Aviation Subcommittee. Space is a new sphere of economic activity, and the House's experts on these issues are members of the House's Committee that is focused on America's future, the Science Committee.

More importantly, the House worked for several months with the Senate to develop a compromise version of the original HR3752, which was passed by a vote of 402 to 1 in March of this year. It is important to note that HR3752 told the Secretary of Transportation to promote and license the carrying of "space flight participants" for compensation, i.e. to make money, under an "informed consent" regime. In other words, the rocket company had to tell the passenger how likely it was they might crash, and then the passenger could choose to take the risk or not. All regulation was focused on making sure the rockets didn't hurt anyone on the ground. The Secretary was not given any authority - and has none under current law - to regulate in order to protect people riding on the vehicle.

And I might just point out, Mr. Oberstar and Mr. DeFazio both voted for HR3752 in March, along with every other Democratic member of the Transportation Committee who showed up to vote. (The only vote against HR3752 in March was by a libertarian Republican who didn't think the government had any right to regulate rockets at all !)

So today's choice on HR5382 is a choice not between one level of safety and another. It's between Congress telling the American people they have a right to go into space and an expectation that, over time, it will become more affordable and more reliable to do so... and saying "we can't be bothered to write legislation to help enable this new industry". Fortunately, the American people *already* have the right to go into space. And the American free market will make it ever-more-affordable and ever-safer, even without the help of federal regulators. But it would be a good thing if this bipartisan legislation were enacted into law to help accelerate the process.

Ironically, the two members speaking in favor of higher safety today will actually leave the industry free to do whatever it wants under current law, with no process by which the Secretary could, let alone would, start to set safety standards. So perhaps they are more committed to stopping legislation - and a new industry - than safety, after all.

James Muncy
Consultant to several Commercial Human Spaceflight companies
703-370-4539
james.muncy@polispace.com

Update: "The House Leadership just announced that there would be no more votes tonight. The House of Representatives will convene at 9am on Saturday morning to consider outstanding votes plus the Omnibus approps bill, etc... so phone calls, faxes, and emails to House Members, especially House Democrats, should continue until at least mid-morning Eastern Time on Saturday.Remember: HR 5382 is a *bipartisan* bill that was developed as a compromise between the House-passed HR3752 and the Senate Commerce Committee's Democratic Staffers. So nobody should think it is a partisan issue or a pro-Republican bill."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on November 19, 2004 5:29 PM.

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